By Gerald Perschbacher
For decades Packards have been among the hottest "blue chip" Classic collectibles on four wheels. Little wonder, given the quality of workmanship, integrity of design, plus superb fit and finish that traced the Packard Motor Car Company's rise to the pinnacle of dominance in luxury car sales during much of the Classic Era of the 1920s through early 1940s.
The company started building that reputation with its first model in 1899. J. Ward Packard was designer while brother William Doud Packard handled organizational matters in Warren, Ohio, until 1903. Henry B. Joy and a small group of investors managed the company's next step toward heady success. Part of their plan was to relocate the operation to Detroit where a large pool of capable workers and raw materials were readily accessible thanks to immigration, the Great Lakes, and related waterways.
Joy was geared for success. He wanted reliable, brawny, comfortable cars that could take families of wealth across the country, up mountains, into deep valleys, and back home with hardly skipping a beat. That is, except for occasional flat tires, the bane of transportation prior to 1920. Part of the problem was the overly rugged road system. Joy attacked that problem, also, by being among the luminaries to spearhead the Lincoln Highway and other road improvements.
Packard Twin Six bowed as a 1916 model, although Packard tended not to designate its cars by year. Instead, it seemed more fitting to designate them by Series as if they were produced during historic eras. Packard had "Classic" in mind.
The Twin Six had a magnificent run well into 1923. Wheelbases ranged from 125 to 136 inches. The twelve cylinder engine had a cubic inch displacement of 424 with horsepower between 88 and 90. The power plant easily moved the nearly 5,000 pound bulk of the automobile. Packard revived its "twelve" concept from 1932 to 1939, the name giving way to being simple the Packard Twelve. The company shied from promoting its car as a "V-12," since that sounded too much like designations used by competitors.
Perhaps the most Classics carrying the Packard name were Super Eights and Standard Eights (later called Eights). These came in a wide range of designations and sub-models. Even as late as 1937, Packard offered around 40 models across its ranges. However, with the advent of the Packard One Twenty in 1935, the organization edged slightly away from ultra-Classics and chose to survive the Great Depression on the strength of sales in the lower-high price range or (according to some historians) the upper mid range that claimed other brands such as Auburn and LaSalle. In 1937, Packard's Six was even lesser in price. It competed in the sales race against the likes of non-Classic Pontiac and Oldsmobile, and later, Mercury.
Much credit for Packard's success can be laid as accolades at the feet of head administrator Alvin Macauley and top engineer Jesse Vincent. This unbeatable team was envied and respected in the high echelon of American motordom.
The Super Eights and Standard Eights are Classic. Packard had found a golden formula. The company was first to masterminded the method of mass production for luxury cars. No company had succeeded as well in that endeavor before Packard, but many tried to emulate the process once they learned how. Packard management was wise and careful in its use of funds. It made cars in the hundreds and thousands, even tens of thousands, but never matched the production scale of makers with lesser priced offerings. Packard's best year was 1937 with well over 100,000 cars sold, albeit the majority were not in the Classic category.
Senior Eights (as they commonly are called) include the Supers and Standards. Variants were termed Deluxe Eight, and by 1940 as Super Eight One Sixty and Custom Super Eight One Eighty. Some experts called the One Eighty the successor to the Packard Twelve, and the thought is deserving. But the owner of a Twelve will quickly note the hand workmanship, extra detail to Old World craftsmanship, and strong number of customer-bodied models that the One Eighty was hard pressed to duplicate.
Those big eights had displacements ranging from 319.2 to 356 cubic inches and horsepower ratings running from 110 to 165. The 1940 Super Eight was deemed a Classic in its day, with traditional grille design and tasteful flowing lines that suited the most discriminating owners -- many of whom loved to have their chauffeur steer their land yacht along the byways in a cruise that was relatively smooth and quiet in comparison to others cars of the day. The 1940 356 straight eight (which was Packard's configuration of choice) eventually powered senior models in the next generation Clipper design, which was a "wow" when it hit dealerships as a mid-year introduction for 1941. Senior models for 1942 through 1947 continued that trend.
Early in CCCA history, Packards out numbered other brands in the club, combined. That has tipped slightly as more Classics have been added to the approved list and more old cars have been restored and taken on tours. But you can still expect to see a connoisseur's choice of stately and sporty Packards at just about any significant CCCA event.
As if it needed more, custom body companies added glamour to Packard. The list of companies that offered their objects of art on the Packard chassis included Dietrich, LeBaron, Fleetwood, Darrin, Derham, and others of note. It seemed to be the desire of many custom houses to have at least one of their Packard versions at national and regional auto shows across the breadth of America.
Packard: Conservative…dignified…distinguished…expensive…powerful…the attributes can stretch as long as a mile. But there is one phrase that will be the mark of success when a Classic Packard glided into place on a concours field…"Oh! So THAT's a Packard…!"
To know more, "Ask the Man Who Owns One."
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